One of the highest honors any Israeli can receive is being asked to light a torch as part of the emotionally moving Independence Day ceremony. This year, at this strange and challenging pandemic-ridden stage of human evolution, Mount Herzl will be relatively and eerily quiet on the evening of April 28, as the melancholy of Memorial Day ebbs away and gives way to the joy of celebrating the fact that Jews have their own national homeland.
Each year, the chosen 12 women and men represent as many segments of Israeli society as possible, across the many socio-ethnic strands, and the various strata of cultural, civilian and military life here. With the former in mind, it makes perfect sense to hand one of the torches to a musician who has championed multiculturalism and mutual acceptance, both here and across the globe for close to 20 years.
Idan Raichel is one of Israel’s best known and most internationally successful singer-songwriters. He has worked with a broad sweep of artists, from all sorts of ethnic and artistic backdrops, and in particular, helped to bring musicians from the Israeli-Ethiopian community into the spotlight. His 2002 release, The Idan Raichel Project, became the country’s biggest-selling album of 2003, and he has been a torchbearer for the manifold Israeli cultural mosaic across the globe for many years.
Raichel learned of the state plaudit from Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev, who oversees the Independence Day program, in a Zoom session on Tuesday evening. The musician was visibly moved when he got the official notification and said he would run off “to tell my mom.”
The minister noted the hit song “Shevet Achim Ve’achayot” (“A Tribe of Brothers and Sisters”), initiated last year by Army Radio, which featured more than 30 of the country’s leading pop and rock performers. The lyrics were written by Doron Meladie and the song was scored by Raichel. Regev said the song “encapsulates his [Raichel’s] musical lifework, a musical string bridge between all parts of the nation, across the range of its sounds and voices.”
Regev noted that Raichel’s message of togetherness was particularly poignant now.
“At this time, as we battle with the coronavirus pandemic, when the mutual guarantee and the art of joining hearts are so important, notwithstanding the physical distance, Idan Raichel’s musical oeuvre is a font of living water of love for Israel, of unity and cohesion in our nation.”
Raichel was quick to salute his hometown of Kfar Saba. He is currently located elsewhere and said he misses the city, and is looking forward to returning there and to his studio “after we overcome the corona challenge.”
This year’s Independence Day ceremony will take place without an audience at Mount Herzl, with the proceedings transmitted on TV and across a wide range of digital platforms. Even so, Regev noted that the event will not be missing the customary pomp and circumstance.
“This year, too, the ceremony will be given its full state, and emotional, due and will reflect the range of voices in Israeli society, to the glory of the State of Israel.”